Norwich’s A History of Venice is a good and thorough work covering from the initial colonization of the islands of the Rialto to the city’s fall to Napoleon (roughly 420 to 1797), but I found it a bit disappointing. However, I spent most of the book wondering why. Partly, I think, it is because there are very few personalities in the book. Norwich himself actually complains of this on two occasions—there’s just very few places in Venetian history where you can say anything about the personality of someone.

However, I think the main problem is I was hoping for a history of the Venetian state, and the book is really a history of the city, though restricted to that period where it was a state. Which is to say that except for those occasions where outside action impinges directly on one of Venice’s holdings, those holdings don’t show in the book. It feels like a stage play with one set—Venice—and news from abroad is sung by the Greek Chorus. There’s no sense of how the overseas empire really worked.

But, Norwich loves the city of Venice, and that love shows through on every page. One thing that is tracked lovingly through the pages are the buildings and monuments of Venice. When a new building goes up, there is a footnote telling what part of it is still visible today. When a Doge dies and is put in a tomb, there is a footnote giving where it was, and where it was moved to if anything happened to it. Visiting Venice with this book in hand would be a real treat.